In the nineteenth-century, children were idealized as "perfect beings who were not only without sin, but who offered adults a model of unworldly goodness."1 As children grew towards emotional and physical maturation, they inevitably lost their innocence. To designate and preserve this special status as long as possible, gender distinctions in nineteenth-century infant and toddler dress were minimal. Infants of both sexes wore long, white dresses. As mobile toddlers, boys and girls wore loose-fitting, calf or ankle length dresses that borrowed details (neckline, sleeve, etc.) from adult dress. Both boys and girls wore their hair long, as seen in this c. 1900 cabinet card of a young boy sporting long, curly locks.
By the age of 5 or 6, gender distinctions in dress became more obvious. Girls continued to wear skirts and dresses, but boys were "breeched," meaning they began wearing short, bifurcated garments. Breeching was a milestone event, indicating that a boy had demonstrated increased maturity. The exact age at which a boy was breeched varied, depending on family beliefs and individual behavior. In the 1870s, boys who had been breeched wore knickerbockers, short trousers which fastened at the knee. If a boy was lucky enough to attend school, his knickerbockers were probably worn with a jacket and vest similar to those pictured here. Unfortunately, we don't have the accompanying knickerbockers, but they were probably made of a sturdy brown fabric, possibly corduroy. The complete ensemble would have also included a white shirt, wool socks, laced leather boots and a cap or hat.